Louvois, François Le Tellier, Marquis De (1641–1691)

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LOUVOIS, FRANÇOIS LE TELLIER, MARQUIS DE (16411691), secretary of state for war under Louis XIV of France. Louvois was the third and eldest surviving son of Michel Le Tellier, who was intendant of the French army of Italy at the time of Louvois's birth, and subsequently became secretary of state for war between 1643 and 1677, and then chancellor of France until his death in 1685. Louvois was educated at the Jesuit-run Collège de Clermont in Paris, and was brought into the War Ministry by his father in 1658 to prepare him for eventual management of the king's armies. Louvois had already been guaranteed the succession to his father as secretary of state for war back in 1655, but had to wait until 1664 for his father to secure for him joint control of the War Ministry. He assumed sole control of its direction in 1677. In addition, Louvois picked up a number of other offices that he also held until his death, most notably superintendent general of the Post from 1668, and superintendent of Arts, Buildings, and Manufactures from 1683, on the death of Jean-Baptiste Colbert. These and other posts brought an accumulation of responsibilities never to be exceeded by another secretary of state during the ancien régime. Indeed, by virtue of this set of responsibilities and through his allies, between 1683 and 1689 Louvois dominated government, though Louis XIV never allowed him to exercise a monopoly of patronage or to control access to his person.

Louvois's reputation rests upon his work as secretary of state for war, where he presided over a massive expansion of the peacetime standing army from around 55,000 men to 150,000, while even larger increases in the forces were generated during wartime. By the time of his death, the French army stood at around 300,000 men (allowing for inaccurate figures, fraud, and desertion). From the surviving documentation it is difficult to apportion credit accurately for the many improvements not only in the size of the army but also in its quality, as Louvois surrounded himself with a highly efficient group of administrators whom he had largely inherited from his father. But under Louvois's stewardship, complex financial and disciplinary rules evolved that made it far more worthwhile for the French nobility to enlist as army officers. By the 1680s the officers could sustain themselves in service for far longer than in the pre-1659 era, and collapses in morale and logistical support in the armies had become far less likely. Indeed, one of Louvois's greatest achievements was to establish more closely integrated systems for paying and feeding the expanding armies. Furthermore, he gave considerable support to the engineer Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban's (16331707) fortification program to defend the frontiers, and many such fortresses became central to Louvois's logistical system.

In large part Louvois's success in equipping France with such a well-ordered army by contemporary standards can be attributed to his extraordinary grasp of the minutiae of military administration and to his remarkable stamina for business. In particular he paid unusual attention to the labyrinthine accounts of treasurers and entrepreneurs who supplied the logistical needs of the armies. He was also a strict disciplinarian who imprisoned two of his own sons, who were serving in the army, for insubordination, and he had a firm belief in the need to encourage godly behavior by officers. Louvois's power, however, also rested upon the support of the monarch. Louis XIV appreciated the need to integrate the Le Tellier family into the court and the upper reaches of French society if they were to be able to deal successfully with the great nobility and the high command. Through promoting a succession of prestigious marriages from 1660, and by endowing Louvois's cousins and sons with offices in the royal household, Louis XIV gave the family social respectability. By the time of his death on 16 July 1691 from a heart attack, Louvois had succeeded in entrenching his family at the apex of French society, and for another ten years they also held on to the War Ministry: he was succeeded as secretary of state for war by his twenty-three-yearold third son, Louis-François-Marie, marquis de Barbezieux, whom he had been preparing for the role since November 1685.

Louvois was possibly the most divisive figure of Louis XIV's reign and still remains controversial, not least for presiding over the persecution of Protestants and the 1689 devastation of the Palatinate. He was highly partisan, driving good officers out of service on grounds of divergent personal interests, and depriving people of the full exercise of their offices. His reputation for ill-mannered brusqueness, and even occasional insolence to the king, was well established. He also encouraged Louis XIV in the pursuit of an aggressive foreign policy and, fatally for the king, he personally found it difficult to appreciate the interests of other powers, especially German princes and the duke of Savoy. Moreover, Louvois had a relatively weak grasp of grand strategy, and his operational directions to commanders were sometimes sufficiently out of touch as to provoke open protests to the king from the generals in the field. In 1691 he was even sidelined by the king from operational discussions during the siege of Mons. Yet, for all this, Louvois was fiercely loyal to the ideal of a strong monarchy, and he was immensely efficient at transacting state business. Just as important, Louvois was highly successful in the one thing that united all ministers and nobles of this erasecuring the elevation of his dynasty.

See also Colbert, Jean-Baptiste ; France ; Louis XIV (France) .


Corvisier, André. Louvois. Paris, 1983. Easily the best biography.

Rousset, Camille. Histoire de Louvois et de son administration politiques et militaire. 4 vols. Paris, 18621864. Exhaustive, but hagiographic.

Rowlands, Guy. The Dynastic State and the Army under Louis XIV: Royal Service and Private Interest, 16611701. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2002. See Part One.

Guy Rowlands

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Louvois, François Le Tellier, Marquis De (1641–1691)

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